Nazaré has become world-famous for the giant waves that hit the coast every winter from October to February attracting surfers and spectators from all over the world. But there is so much more to this little fishermen’s town in Central Portugal! Beautifully located in between the moon-shaped sand beach on one side and a giant rock on the other, Nazaré has some of the oldest fishing traditions in Portugal.
We made just a short stop in Nazaré during our 10-day road trip in Portugal and quickly fell in love with this fascinating seaside town where the time seems to have stood still. Or at least that’s the feeling that you get if you come here off-season. I hear that Nazaré is extremely popular among beach goers in summer and during weekends. Some publications even call it ‘overwhelmed by tourism’. However, it was really quiet when we were there in April and we could catch a glimpse of the authentic fishermen’s village that Nazaré once was and enjoy the unique atmosphere that can still be found there today.
TIP: For less crowds and more authentic feel visit Nazaré off season and avoid summer weekends.
It would be very difficult to choose just one favourite place in Portugal, but Nazaré would definitely be high on that list. Located about half way between Lisbon and Porto, Nazare also makes for a wonderful day trip or a stop to break the long drive between the two most visited towns of Portugal.
Furthermore, Nazare is located in the same area as the famous monasteries of Alcobaca and Batalha and therefore makes a good base for exploring the area for a couple of days. It will also be a highlight of any family vacation in Portugal with kids. If you are traveling in Central Portugal, I highly recommend that you visit this charming fishing village. Find out!
Nazare beach – Praia de Nazaré
We arrived in Nazaré without knowing what to expect or what there was to see in town. We had heard of the famous Nazaré beach, so that was the first place we went to. We parked the car at one of the little streets leading towards the sea thinking that we’d probably be back in no time as the village didn’t look like a tourist highlight at first sight. We ended up spending the whole afternoon in Nazare and it was dark by the time we returned. It turns out Nazare has a lot more to offer than it looks at first sight, but of course the beach is not to be missed.
We walked on a nice seaside promenade in the direction of a little harbour (Porto), but we never even got there. I read in the book that Porto of Nazaré is a nice lively place to visit in the morning when the fishermen come back from sea, but since we arrived in Nazaré in the afternoon, it looked really quiet from afar, so we decided to skip it.
Our kids saw wooden boats on the beach and set to explore – they afterwards said that it was the best playground ever.
In the meantime our attention was caught by the strange wooden constructions that were used to dry fish. We found a couple of local ladies selling fish to the tourists and of course couldn’t resist to try some. The fish looks so dry that there’s hardly anything left to eat, but it’s quite fun to taste. After some hesitation even the kids decided to give it a go. They charge a euro for two or three fish if I remember well, so I’d say give it a try. More for experience than for the taste. Just be careful if you have any teeth fillings; and I would definitely not try the dried fish if you have dentures. 🙂
There were of course ice cream places and little shops selling souvenirs by the beach too. It’s incredible how well the traditional and the modern parts fit so well and co-exist side by side to create such a unique atmosphere I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world.
Nazare beach itself is really scenic and big and I can easily see why it’s so popular with the locals and tourists alike. If you are visiting Nazaré in summer, definitely plan to spend some time here, with or without kids.
As I said, Nazaré is world-famous for its big waves, but the beach itself is not really where it happens (see further). Swimming is possible in Nazaré, but look for a more protected spot (in the direction of the cliffs) and keep an eye on the warning flags – the waves by the beach looked quite big even in spring.
Fishermen’s district – Bairro dos Pescadores
After we managed to convince the kids to leave the wooden boats, we set to explore the fishermen’s district.
It’s difficult to say where exactly the fishermen’s district of Nazaré begins or ends. According to our guide book it’s several blocks of narrow streets with white little houses between Praca Manuel de Arriaga and Avenida Vieira Guimares. It’s a really nice area to ‘get lost’ and explore more. The fishermen’s district has a very local feel and the houses are built so close to one another that it makes you feel a bit like an intruder. Barefoot kids playing soccer, laundry flapping in the wind, men mending fish nets, and older people sitting on benches and catching up on the latest gossip – this is the more authentic Nazaré that you find in the back streets, just a few steps from the more tourist-oriented seaside promenade.
While Nazaré beach feels very lively and is a bit touristy, the fishermen’s district is a place that feels like it hasn’t changed in a hundred years. It looks like time stood still here and it’s easy to imagine the little fishermen’s village that Nazaré once was.
You will definitely run into some locals here and it’s remarkable that all the ladies are wearing traditional clothing. You can’t really miss it. Old ladies wear black shirts and short colourful skirts with seven petticoats in combination with a woollen cape, an apron, and house slippers. While some gentlemen can be seen in checkered pants and traditional woollen caps reaching their shoulders. It is quite an unusual sight. And no, it doesn’t look like they wear the traditional clothing only for the sake of tourists and that’s just one of the charms of exploring authentic Nazaré.
TIP: If you come on a Friday, you’ll find a local market at the fishermen’s district. And on Saturdays in summer you can watch the fascinating Drag Nets (Arte Xávega) spectacle. In the late afternoon local fishermen arrive from sea with nets laden with fish, followed by local women screaming out their wares for sale. It’s apparently quite a spectacle, so might be fun to watch if you are visiting in high season.
If you walk North along the seaside past the fishermen’s district you will find yourself at the Nazaré funicular. Part of Nazaré town is called O Sitio and it’s situated high on the cliff. You can get there by car, but the funicular is a much quicker and more scenic way to get there. If you want to save a euro or two, you could opt to take the stairs, but beware that it’s a really steep climb. And for less than 3 EUR for the round trip ticket, it’s one of the best experiences you can have in Portugal.
The first Nazaré funicular was installed at the end of 19th century and it’s been an intrinsic part of the town ever since. Don’t worry – the current funicular is quite modern and the ride is really smooth. Enjoy the ride and make sure to look around once in a while – the views are simply stunning.
O Sitio is the upper part of town Nazaré located high above the sea that can be reached by funicular (or by stairs, for the brave among us). Close to the funicular station you can find a viewpoint belvedere overlooking the town and the beach.
There are several souvenir shops up on the mountain and it’s worth taking a quick look as some of the souvenirs they are selling are hand-made by local people. We also saw a small market with sellers dressed in traditional clothing selling some local specialties, so check it out. Kids loved trying all different kinds of sweets and nuts that were for sale here.
Further you can visit the chapel of Ermida da Memoria, the church of The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Nazaré, and the Dr. Joaquim Manso museum.
But the main attraction of O Sitio is the coastline and the above mentioned famous giant waves of Nazaré. If you walk on to Farol lighthouse you have a beautiful view of the rocky coastline. This is the place where people from all over the world come to watch and surf the big waves every winter. There are even specialised websites where you can follow the wave forecast so that you can choose to visit at the best possible moment. We visited in April and even then the waves were really impressive.
A Portuguese surfer Hugo Vau is said to have beaten the world record by surfing a 35m (114ft) high wave in Nazaré in January 2018.
Try catch of the day at a local restaurant
By the time we explored O Sitio it was time for dinner. We found ourselves a little restaurant with a beautiful view overlooking the bay (although the local men and our kids were more interested in a football game on TV). We were shown a couple of freshly caught fish and could choose which one we liked. The price you pay depends on the weight and get a really good meal for little money, so it’s well worth to try that instead of taking something from the regular menu.
After dinner we headed back to A Praia – the lower part of town where we started our Nazaré tour. By then the sun was starting to set and we were treated to a spectacular sunset. The perfect end of our short visit to Nazaré.
Nazaré may not have any major landmarks or famous tourist sights, but the combination of the scenery, the beach and the local traditions makes it one of the must-see places in Central Portugal. We spent a lazy afternoon in Nazaré and the memory of this village always puts a smile on my face.
- Nazaré is located 15min drive from Alcobaça monastery, 30 min drive from Batalha, 1,5hrs from Lisbon and 2hrs driving time from Porto.
- Nazaré has a big variety of accommodation for all budgets. It might be busy in high season, so make sure to book in advance. You can find the best deals for Nazaré accommodation here.
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